By Fayth Stephenson
Stretches are a great way to warm up, cool down, and increase flexibility for your horse’s muscles. Studies have been done that suggest static equine stretches outside of exercise help to improve power and speed, as well as reduce the risk of injury. The best time to stretch your horse is after he has been worked. At this time the muscles are warm and pliable.
I stretch my horse, CNF High Smarts “Gatsby,” in place of under saddle work on days that I don’t have much time to fully exercise him, which is typically twice a week. Gatsby is active in the Hunter ring and we are currently working towards moving into Jumpers. By doing these stretches and using the Posture Prep Grooming tool regularly I am able to ensure that he is supple through his jumps and turns and I am able to notice if he is particularly sore or stiff in certain areas. If you are looking for stretches to work on your own flexibility, you can click here.
Before you begin stretching, keep in mind that these stretches are not to replace any veterinary treatments, unless suggested by your veterinarian. Also, contact your veterinarian before stretching if your horse has any ligament scar tissue or torn muscles. Stretches can sometime aggravate scar tissue and worsen any previous injuries.
Take these precautions before stretching:
- Stretch your horse in a clear area
- Stretch your horse after his muscles have been warmed up
- Have someone hold your horse for you, use crossties with caution
*For the following stretches I “ground tied” Gatsby because he is learning how to do so.
- Shoulder Flexor
This stretch focuses on the shoulder flexor group and the elbow extensor group.
Start by facing your horse, lift either front leg and give him a moment to balance. Place both of your hands behind the knee to support his leg (I prefer to hold behind the knee and the pastern so my horse doesn’t try to snap his leg back). Hold the cannon bone against your thigh and slowly pull his leg upward and forward.
This is a great stretch to do if your horse is experiencing short striding in the front and has stiff shoulders. This stretch is also helpful to unfold skin that has been pinched under the girth.
- Shoulder Flexor II
This stretch focuses on the shoulder extensor group, the elbow extensor group, and carpal flexor.
Start by standing beside your horse, lift either front leg and give him a moment to balance. Place one hand behind his knee and support his toe with your other hand. Pull his leg forward until it is fully extended. You can rest your elbows on your knees to support your back while holding the extended leg. Continue holding the extended leg until your horse leans into the stretch.
This stretch is not suggested for horses that have had lower limb ligament injuries.
- Shoulder Extensor
The stretch focuses on the shoulder extensor group.
Start by picking up either front leg as though you’re going to pick its hoof. Place one hand on the front of the knee and use your other hand to support the front of the fetlock. Making sure the hoof is up and “pointed at the hind leg,” begin to gently push on the knee so the leg extends towards the hind leg. Just like the Shoulder Flexor II stretch, hold the leg extended until your horse leans into the stretch. At some point of this stretch you will feel resistance, it is important to not force this stretch-or any stretch-to slim the risk of pulling your horse’s muscles.
This stretch helps horses that have a tense chest and shoulders.
- Hip Flexor
This stretch focuses on the hip flexor.
Start by standing next to either hind limb of your horse. Pick up his leg as though you are going to pick his hoof. Place one hand on the hock and your other hand on the front of the fetlock. Do not exert any downward force on the hock, but rather, push the fetlock out behind the horse. This stretch may be challenging for some horses, but the leg is to eventually be fully extended behind the horse. I suggest baby stepping to this and keeping your inside knee close the fetlock to prevent your horse from snapping his leg back.
This helps to improve your horse’s range of motion.
- Hip Extensor, Stifle Flexor
This stretch focuses on the hip extensors and stifle flexors.
Start by standing next to either hind limb of your horse. Pick up his leg as though you are going to pick his hoof. Place one hand on his fetlock, and hold his toe with your other hand
This is a great stretch to do if your horse is experiencing short striding in the hind.
Back, Trunk, and Neck
- Spinal Extensor
This stretch focuses on stretching the back.
Start by standing directly behind your horse, for more unpredictable horses stand off the side. Using both hands, place them approximately four inches down either side of base of the tail. Begin to scratch. Your horse should start to raise or arch his back. Be sure to scratch a little harder if your horse is not reacting. Once he raises his back, stop scratching and let him relax. Perform this stretch two more times to thoroughly stretch his back.
This stretch is helpful for cold-backed horses, or just to help your horse stretch before and after riding to relieve any stress.
*Gatsby and I did not perform this stretch due to my own personal preferences for him.
- Lateral Flexor
This stretch focuses on the lateral flexors of the neck.
Start by having a long treat like a carrot, grass, candy cane, etc. stand at your horse’s shoulder and baby step backwards, luring his nose to his barrel with the treat. If your horse is trying to circle, use a wall to support his side opposite of you. Your horse may not be able to reach very far at first but continuing this stretch regularly, he may eventually be able to reach his hip.
This stretch is great for horses that may be weak in their turns while doing vaults or other turning/circular tasks.
I personally love this stretch for my horse, Gatsby. It has turned into a fun stretch for him to do in order to earn a treat. We even have our own whistle tune to go with it. I also encourage this stretch while he is under saddle. Whenever we are idle after an exercise or after cooling out, I will whistle and tap one of his shoulders and he will touch my boot that corresponds to the shoulder I tapped.
- Neck Extensor
This stretch focuses on stretching the top of the neck from the poll to the withers and ensuring both sides of the neck are evenly stretched.
Start by having a treat like a carrot, cookie, etc.
There are three different levels to this stretch and it should always be performed after the lateral stretch to ensure both sides of the neck are evenly stretched. It is best to start from the ground up [as listed below], increasing the stretch as the horse works up.
Using your treat, hold it between your horse’s front hooves.
This stretches the entire length of your horse’s topline, from his poll to his tail.
Using your treat, hold it between your horse’s knees.
This stretches from your horse’s poll to his loins.
Using your treat, hold it to your horse’s chest. You may need to lure his nose with the treat to his chest.
This stretches from your horse’s poll to the base of his neck.
Content inspired by: Equine Wellness Magazine
Photo credit: Shelly Edwards Photography.